A little over eight years ago, then-President elect Barack Obama stood at a lectern in Chicago’s Grant Park and declared that change had come to America.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer,” Obama said.
The air was swollen with optimism, with hope for the future that lay ahead. Now, on his way out, the president will address a nation that is largely apprehensive about the next commander-in-chief, a man who won despite trailing his opponent by 3 million popular votes. A man who the president himself derided throughout the 2016 presidential election, only to graciously welcome him for a meeting in the Oval Office just days after the election.
But instead of harping on the nation’s anxiety, President Obama will attempt to revive that same sense of optimism in the farewell address he’ll deliver from his adoptive hometown.
“The two things I take away from this office are number one that change can happen,” the president said in a video released by the White House ahead of the address. “The second thing I’ll take away from this experience is the fundamental goodness of the American people.” That goodness, he said, is what gives him confidence in the future prospects of the American people.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday the president seeks to deliver a “heartfelt” message of gratitude to the American people in his final address, which will be both forward looking and reflective; reflective in that the president will list his accomplishments as commander-in-chief, the legislation passed, promised kept, and the social progress he’s ushered through. And forward looking in that he’ll discuss what he believes will be necessary to face the challenges that lay ahead.
“The President is committed to delivering a forward-looking speech that will examine briefly the significant progress that our country has made in the last eight years. But it will take a closer look and he’ll spend more time talking about what the President believes is necessary for us to confront the challenges that lie ahead,” Earnest said. “Most of those solutions, in the mind of the President, rest on the deeply held values that just about every American subscribes to,” including fairness, justice, and the strength in the U.S.’s diversity.
Obama has been similarly nostalgic before. In the heat of the 2016 campaign, the president delivered speech after speech noting the work of his Administration. Those remarks, however, were shaped around the president’s belief that his successor would continue the work he started. In short, they were delivered before the American public handed a decisive victory over to president-elect Donald Trump, a man who campaigned on dismantling much of the work of the Obama presidency.
The president’s speech on Tuesday is also likely to be laced with subtle admonitions aimed at the president-elect whose divisive campaign and harsh rhetoric stoked fear among marginalized communities. Throughout the transition, President Obama has offered measured criticisms of Trump; it would be unlike him to change his tone.
When the president comes home to Washington after his Tuesday evening speech, he will deplane from Air Force One for the last time as president.
In year’s past, farewell addresses have been delivered from the White House; Presidents Clinton, Carter, and Reagan delivered their addresses from the Oval Office while President George W. Bush spoke from the East Room. Obama, however, said he wanted to return to “where it all started,” the community where he launched his career in public service as a community organizer and which he later represented as the junior Senator from Illinois, to say goodbye.
“I’ll be thinking back to being a young community organizer, pretty much fresh out of school and feeling as if my faith in America’s ability to bring about change in our democracy has been vindicated, Obama said in a video released by the White House ahead of the speech.